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Kevin Graham

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Managing Expectation

Posted: 23/05/2012 15:14

There are a few managerial vacancies out there, you might have heard.

With Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Brom all seeking new managers already - I'm sure they won't be the only Premier League clubs with a vacancy at the top this summer - speculation is rife.

If we've learnt anything since King Kenny's departure from Anfield, it's that the club's fans are, on the whole, slightly detached from reality. That's natural, they were the dominant force in English and arguably European football for a generation. The boot room culture at Anfield is respected the world over, and they are indeed a special football club. But they are now and have been for some time, also rans in the Premier League. I reckon they're league position at the end of the season was about right - in the same league expectations wise as Newcastle and Everton. Yes they have a massive and loyal fan base, and a fabulous history and heritage, but if you were considering a job offer to take up the Anfield hot seat, how would you weigh up the opportunity?

They have one truly world class player, who is only fit to play 15 games a season and has a year, maybe two, left at the top. Luis Suarez is clearly a top, top footballer too, and perhaps he could be deemed in the world class bracket too. They have a another five or six players with real potential but who are in danger of spending too long in an under-performing side to really develop into top class, consistent footballers with instincts for success eg Downing, Carroll, Enrique, Kuyt, Johnson etc. I would add Reina to that group now, he's regressed from being a world class keeper to one who looks fragile far too frequently. That leaves a group of young players who are like rabbits in the headlights - Shelvey, Spearing, Kelly and Henderson particularly, who are struggling to find their feet in an ever changing team with very little in the way of senior influence to help them. Jamie Carragher - for me the man who has given them sufficient steel at times in the last decade to bring them any success they have enjoyed and a leader of men who should go down as one of the best ever at Anfield - is now struggling with the effects of age. Craig Bellamy aside, the remainder of the squad are simply not good enough.

This squad still has potential, but they've chopped and changed so much that some of the players need to move on in order for the team to settle and prosper. So funds are required to build a side, but those funds are probably not going to be available. The hangover from last year's spending spree is a painful one. £40m on Carroll may in time look almost acceptable - he is showing signs of life and I think he may have a good tournament this summer in Poland and the Ukraine but for £40m, you need the finished article and they didn't get that in Carroll. £20m on Henderson was just an ambitious punt - hard working with a great attitude for the game, Henderson is by all accounts a model pro, but he doesn't have the ability to justify that kind of fee. He may have a decent career ahead of him but it will be hard work and application that get him that, not a natural gift that sets him apart as a creative influence or constant attacking threat. Add to that the £20m expense of Downing who has been largely anonymous in the last season, and you have a very expensive trip to the shops with not a lot to show for it.

So the new manager won't have pots of money to rebuild with, the value of his side is probably half of what was actually paid for it and some wily trading in the transfer market will therefore be difficult as the assets aren't worth what the books might have them valued at.

Add to this the expectation of both fans and the club's owners, FSG, and you have a daunting prospect for the next incumbent.

The situation is similar for Aston Villa. A big fan base and a famous history does not make it easy for modern managers at the club. The fans' expectations and influence at the club are too much at times. Rather like Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, Alex Mcleish was on a hiding to nothing because the fans didn't want him there. With little in the way of funds to work with, the new manager at Villa Park is going to struggle to reach the safety of mid table and a long, hard season looks on the cards which would inevitably lead to more dissatisfaction from the clubs' fans. It's a rut that's hard to get out of when the competition in the Premier League is so intense.

I find it hard to understand why fans have so much influence on managerial choice, but I do accept that their views are so much more relevant at a club like Liverpool that has such a strong footballing heritage - it's more a way of life for the Liverpool family, and I get that. Even still, those fans are not best placed to judge, particularly because they think they deserve to get one of the top managers in world football. Aside from the obvious challenge some may relish and the honour of being at the helm of a world famous club, I don't see much to attract the leading candidates. The likes of Mourinho and Guardiola wouldn't, I suspect, dream of taking the role given the limitations of the club in its current state. Whoever comes in needs to lay down the DNA of an entirely new team - there's probably no instant fix here.

When I hear Liverpool fans saying that Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez and Andres Villas-Boas are not good enough, I have to chuckle to myself, particularly given that Roy Hodgson was held in similar regard by those fans and he has been entrusted with the role of England manager. They are exactly the type of managers who can take the club forward, and if the Liverpool fans would just back them wholeheartedly, I am adamant that they would do no worse than King Kenny did this year whilst also building the foundations to push the club back into the promised land of the Champions League.

At Villa Park, they too need some stability, and an appointment that has the backing of the whole club. It appears that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not be that man, so they need to be realistic about the names they can attract. My preference there would be Ian Holloway if they could prise him away from Blackpool. Give him a season to bed in a team and I'm certain he could motivate both players and fans - not only is he a fantastic character to lead the club who, by virtue of his personality alone, will attract positive focus on the club, but he has proved at Blackpool that he can build a team, watch it succeed, and then build another team after the initial project has run it's course. They play great football, which Villa fans appear to have an appetite for after the rather dreary fare on show under Mcleish, and I think he is capable of ensuring there is some defensive backbone to complement the attacking style and stop them conceding too many. Obviously Paul Lambert merits serious consideration but I'm not sure there's enough to tempt him from his current surroundings, though Norwich will have a tough job emulating the successes of their first season in the Premier League. So that's Villa sorted, but what about the Liverpool hot seat?

Appointing Jamie Carragher, a man revered by Liverpool fans almost as much as his manager until recently was back at the end of his playing career, might allow the club to rebuild with a little less pressure to achieve the instant gratification that trophies and Champions' League qualification would bring. Given that this would be in keeping with the club's traditions and he is one of their own, it would be a popular appointment. He is clearly a guy with the potential to manage, is an excellent leader and has played a role in developing some of Liverpool's younger players at a difficult time for the club results wise. Maybe the owners of the football club may see that as too similar a strategy to the one employed when appointing Dalglish, but if messers Martinez, Villas-Boas and Rodgers decide its too risky a proposition to take on, I'd favour Carragher over any continental manager such as Van Gaal, Klinsmann or Capello.

On my own management fortunes, I'm delighted to say we beat Jersey a couple of weeks ago down at Springfield Stadium on what was a great day for everyone involved in Guernsey football. You can see the highlights on Channel Television. And no, I won't be applying for any other jobs this summer!

 

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